Wooing Muslim Troops for Iraq

Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser to President Bush, does not expect that the UN backing for Iraq's new government will entice more nations to offer troops. At best, she says, it might encourage countries with troops already in Iraq to stay, and keep their forces at current levels.

That assessment could be too low if circumstances in Iraq improve. And after a long spell of insurgency and scandal, it does appear that the outlook for American soldiers in Iraq may actually brighten.

A key factor in that outlook is how sovereign the new Iraqi government appears in the eyes of Iraqis and those nations which might consider sending troops. Strengthened through four drafts, the UN resolution approved Tuesday will transfer almost all authority in Iraq from the US to the new interim government. This lends more credibility to the term "full sovereignty" than the first draft did. So, too, does the UN Security Council's unanimous approval of the resolution.

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Meanwhile the insurgency in Najaf and Fallujah has quieted down for now, and a plan to incorporate about 100,000 members of Iraq's private militias into the country's army and police could also contribute to a lessening of violence. Chaos and insecurity in Iraq have discouraged nations from sending troops.

Now Iraq's new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has himself invited more countries to join the multinational forces in Iraq, specifically requesting the assistance of Muslim nations.

A Muslim contribution - no matter how small - would be an important symbolic addition to the 33-country multinational force, helping to correct the appearance of a mainly Christian force in a Muslim land.

Pakistan and Bangladesh are being talked about as possible contributors to a new brigade specified in the UN resolution. The brigade (4,000 troops) would protect UN workers assisting in Iraq's reconstruction and elections. That the brigade, though sanctioned and tasked by the UN, would still be under US command, could be a sticking point.

Mr. Allawi included Arab nations in his invitation. They might be even more difficult to convince. The Iraqi foreign minister rules out neighboring countries, each of which has its interests vis-à-vis Iraq. That greatly reduces the available Arab contributors, who are unlikely to help until they see sovereignty in practice. Egypt could be the most likely contender, since it has a large army.

Dr. Rice is right to downplay the prospects of international reinforcements in Iraq. But the call from the Iraqi leader himself, along with the reinforced UN resolution and improving situation on the ground, could produce some surprising results. Perhaps even NATO, which meets later this month, might ante up.

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